What do people really know about "Obamacare"?

A month ago I posted a link to the Kaiser Family Foundation's pop quiz about the Affordable Care Act, popularly called "Obamacare." If you haven't taken it yet I suggest giving it a try. It won't take you long since there are only 10 questions, all true-false.

Back in early December 2010 the Kaiser Family Foundation included this pop quiz in a survey of 1,207 U.S. adults and found that the majority tended to do about as well as a parakeet picking answers at random. That is, 56% answered 4 to 6 questions out of the 10 correctly. Two percent scored a perfect zero and less than one percent got all 10 questions right.

What I found more interesting is a table in their report (pdf) that shows the percentages of correct, incorrect, and "don't know" answers for each question. Of the five "True" items on the test, each was answered correctly by 62 to 72 percent of the people surveyed. Of the five "False" items, only 25 to 45% were answered correctly. This makes me suspect that people have a tendency to suppose that an assertion is true, especially if they've heard something like it.

The most common false impression was that all businesses, no matter how small, will be required to get health insurance for their employees (something I believe is true in Hawaii by state law, but nowhere else in the U.S. as far as I know). Small businesses do get tax breaks if they want to insure their workers, but unless they have over 50 employees the law won't require them to.

The second biggest misconception among survey respondents was that there will be a public option, that is, an optional program like Medicare to compete with private health insurance. That was something a lot of people wanted to see, but it didn't make it into the bill thanks to insurance lobbyists.

45% of those asked mistakenly thought that the law reduces Medicare benefits and another 15% weren't sure, which isn't surprising given political lying on the subject. The the law does cut extra payments (relative to traditional Medicare) for private Medicare Advantage policies, and it strives to hold down the growth in the rate of Medicare spending without cutting any existing benefits. In fact, the law adds benefits in terms of free, no-copay screening exams and preventive services.

41% thought the law would help illegal immigrants buy insurance. That's explicitly forbidden.

Finally, 40% believed that government panels will make decisions about end-of-life care for the elderly, the infamous "death panel" lie that is one of the most odious and offensive political lies in decades. Another 15% weren't sure whether it was true or not.

Again, the survey was conducted a little over a year and a half ago, so it's possible people have become at least a bit better informed in the meantime.

When you read that opponents of the law still slightly outnumbers supporters in opinion surveys, keep in mind that many people (on both sides) are still probably basing their opinion on very limited knowledge of what the law actually says. For that matter, a lot of no-compromise people on the political left dislike the law because they wanted to see a Canadian-style Medicare-for-all system instead.

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